Galarrwuy Yunupingu

Last updated
Galarrwuy Yunupingu
Born (1948-06-30) 30 June 1948 (age 70)
Melville Bay, Northern Territory, Australia
Nationality Australian
Known for Politics, music
Movement Aboriginal land rights in Australia
Relatives Mandawuy Yunupingu
Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
"Gurindji Blues"
Single by Galarrwuy Yunupingu
B-side "The Tribal Land"
Released 1971
Format 7" Single
Length Introduction by Vincent Lingiari1:06
Gurindji Blues – 2:30
Label RCA Victor 101937
Songwriter(s) Ted Egan
Producer(s) Ron Wills

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, AM (born 30 June 1948) is a leader in the Australian Indigenous community, and has been involved in the fight for Land Rights throughout his career. [1]

Order of Australia series of Australian national honours

The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry established on 14 February 1975 by Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia, to recognise Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service. Before the establishment of the order, Australian citizens received British honours.

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

Indigenous Australians are the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands before British colonisation. The time of arrival of the first Indigenous Australians is a matter of debate among researchers. The earliest conclusively human remains found in Australia are those of Mungo Man LM3 and Mungo Lady, which have been dated to around 50,000 years BP. Recent archaeological evidence from the analysis of charcoal and artefacts revealing human use suggests a date as early as 65,000 BP. Luminescence dating has suggested habitation in Arnhem Land as far back as 60,000 years BP. Genetic research has inferred a date of habitation as early as 80,000 years BP. Other estimates have ranged up to 100,000 years and 125,000 years BP.


Early life and education

He was born at Melville Bay near Yirrkala on 30 June 1948, and is a member of the Gumatj clan of the Yolngu people. [2] He attended the Mission School at Yirrkala in his formative years, and moved to Brisbane to study at the Methodist Bible College for two years, returning to Gove in 1967. [2]

Yirrkala is an indigenous community in East Arnhem Shire, Northern Territory of Australia. It is 18 km South-East from the large mining town of Nhulunbuy in Arnhem Land. In the 2016 census, Yirrkala had a population of 809 people.

Yolngu Indigenous Australian people inhabiting north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory

The Yolngu or Yolŋu are an aggregation of indigenous Australian people inhabiting north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Yolngu means "person" in the Yolŋu languages. The terms Murngin and Wulamba were formerly used by some anthropologists for the Yolngu. All Yolngu clans are affiliated with either the Dhuwa (Dua) or the Yirritja moiety.

Brisbane capital city of Queensland, Australia

Brisbane is the capital of and the most populated city in the Australian state of Queensland, and the third most populous city in Australia. Brisbane's metropolitan area has a population of 2.5 million, and the South East Queensland region, centred on Brisbane, encompasses a population of more than 3.5 million. The Brisbane central business district stands on the historic European settlement and is situated inside a peninsula of the Brisbane River, about 15 kilometres from its mouth at Moreton Bay. The metropolitan area extends in all directions along the floodplain of the Brisbane River Valley between Moreton Bay and the Great Dividing Range, sprawling across several of Australia's most populous local government areas (LGAs)—most centrally the City of Brisbane, which is by far the most populous LGA in the nation. The demonym of Brisbane is "Brisbanite".

Land rights

In the early 1960s, with his father, Gumatj clan leader Mungurrawuy, he entered the struggle for Land Rights, and helped draw up the Bark Petition at Yirrkala. He came to national attention in the late 1960s for his role in the landmark, but unsuccessful Gove Land Rights Case. This legal action was the first by Indigenous Australians to challenge mining companies' rights to exploit traditional lands. He became a prominent leader and strong voice on behalf of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and Australia, gaining respect and admiration from many. In 1969 he was elected to the Yirrkala town council.

The Yirrkala bark petitions 1963 are historic Australian documents that were the first traditional documents prepared by Indigenous Australians that were recognised by the Australian Parliament, and are the first documentary recognition of Indigenous people in Australian law.

Mining The extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth

Mining is the extraction of valuable minerals or other geological materials from the earth, usually from an ore body, lode, vein, seam, reef or placer deposit. These deposits form a mineralized package that is of economic interest to the miner.

Northern Territory federal territory of Australia

The Northern Territory is an Australian territory in the central and central northern regions of Australia. It shares borders with Western Australia to the west, South Australia to the south, and Queensland to the east. To the north, the territory looks out to the Timor Sea, the Arafura Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria, including Western New Guinea and other Indonesian islands. The NT covers 1,349,129 square kilometres (520,902 sq mi), making it the third-largest Australian federal division, and the 11th-largest country subdivision in the world. It is sparsely populated, with a population of only 246,700, making it the least-populous of Australia's eight states and major territories, with fewer than half as many people as Tasmania.

In 1975 he joined the Northern Land Council (NLC), the authority appointed under the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act of 1976 to represent traditional Aboriginal landowners and Aboriginal people. He was chairman of the NLC from 1977–80, an executive member until 1983 when he was re-elected as chairman. He has led a number of negotiations with mining and government bodies. [2]

The Northern Land Council (NLC) is in the Top End of the Northern Territory of Australia. It has its origins in the struggle of Australian Aboriginal people for rights to fair wages and land. This included the strike and walk off by the Gurindji people at Wave Hill, cattle station in 1966. The head office is located in Darwin. It was established in 1973.

As chair of the NLC, he led the Gagudju people in negotiations with mining and government bodies. Not opposed to mining in principle, Yunupingu sees it as a way for Aboriginal people to escape the welfare trap if it is conducted on the traditional owners' terms. These include a fair distribution of the economic benefits and respect for the land and specific sacred sites. He said: "We will continue to fight for the right to make our own decisions about our own land." [2]

The welfare trap theory asserts that taxation and welfare systems can jointly contribute to keep people on social insurance because the withdrawal of means-tested benefits that comes with entering low-paid work causes there to be no significant increase in total income. An individual sees that the opportunity cost of returning to work is too great for too little a financial return, and this can create a perverse incentive to not work.


In 1978 he was named Australian of the Year for his negotiations on the Ranger uranium mine agreement. [3] He said the award 'would help him to shake off the image of ratbag and radical' and would give him 'greater strength as an individual and as a leader'. It was also a recognition for Aboriginal people as 'the indigenous people of this country who must share in its future'.

The Australian of the Year is an award conferred on an Australian citizen by the National Australia Day Council, a not-for-profit Australian Government–owned social enterprise.

Ranger Uranium Mine mine

The Ranger Uranium Mine is a uranium mine in the Northern Territory of Australia. It is surrounded by, but separate from Kakadu National Park, 230 km east of Darwin. The orebody was discovered in late 1969, and the mine commenced operation in 1980, reaching full production of uranium oxide in 1981. It is operated by Energy Resources of Australia, a 68% subsidiary of Rio Tinto Group. Uranium mined at Ranger is sold for use in nuclear power stations in Asia, Europe and North America.

In 1985, he was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for his services to the Aboriginal community. Galarrwuy Yunupingu is one of 100 "Australian Living National Treasures" selected by the National Trust of Australia as leaders in society "considered to have a great influence over our environment because of the standards and examples they set".

In 2015, at the Garma Festival, he was honoured by the University of Melbourne with an Honorary Doctor of Laws (LL.D.). In a statement, Professor Margaret Sheil, Provost at the University of Melbourne, said the Honorary Doctor of Laws award to Yunupingu was to recognise and celebrate the significance of his work for Indigenous rights. She said, "The Honorary Doctor of Laws is the University's highest academic honour. ... Dr Yunupingu's relentless struggle for land rights and advocacy for the agency of his people have profoundly advanced the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout Australia. ... Dr Yunupingu has received the award of the Doctor of Laws honoris causa in recognition of the fire he has lit that will blaze ever brighter until Indigenous people secure their self-evident rights to property, their own way of life, economic independence and control over their lives and the future of their children." [4]

Return to public life

He has kept a low profile since the 1980s. In 2007 he spoke about the need for action in reducing indigenous poverty, in reference to John Howard's intervention he said "The intervention was an incomplete process about which he would reserve his judgement until he knew what was working and what wasn't." In 2009 he spoke out against the inability of the government to provide adequate housing. [5] [6]

He lives near Yirrkala and is a senior ceremonial leader. He continues to hold numerous positions on committees and organisations where he can share his wide experience with other Australians and promote the aspirations of his people. [7]

In January 2010 he spent time in hospital after collapsing in a bank in Nhulunbuy. [8]

In late 2016, Dr Yunupingu had a kidney transplant, performed by Dr Paul Lawton in Darwin, NT. [9]

See also

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  1. Lewis, Wendy (2010). Australians of the Year. Pier 9 Press. ISBN   978-1-74196-809-5.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "Inside the NLC – Council Members – Galarrwuy Yunupingu, AM". Northern Land Council. Archived from the original on 27 October 2009. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  3. "AUSTRALIAN OF THE YEAR Galarrwuy Yunupingu AM". Australia Day Council. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  4. Garma Festival 2015: Galarrwuy Yunupingu awarded honorary doctorate by University of Melbourne, ABC News Online, 1 August 2015
  5. Waldon, Steve (27 October 2007). "Yunupingu returns to the fray, keen to get results, not symbols". The Age. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  6. Robinson, Natasha (12 August 2009). "Yunupingu loses faith in intervention". The Australian. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  7. Clayfield, Matthew (2 January 2009). "Galarrwuy Yunupingu's radical voice for action". The Australian. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  8. "Galarrwuy recovering". NT News. 25 January 2010. Retrieved 25 January 2010.
  9. Not all doctors agree my patient deserved his kidney transplant. They're wrong, Dr Paul Lawton, ABC News Online, 2018-01-11